Author: Cornish, Rick

Hunters and Gatherers

In my late twenties I stumbled, literally by accident, onto bluegrass music, when, from the instant I heard Jake Quisennberry and the Lost Ramblers sing a straight-ahead, hard-driving version of ‘Little Maggie’ at a bluegrass festival my pal John Bunch and I mistakenly had driven four hours to attend on the faulty assumption that a “bluegrass festival” was actually a BLUES festival with a healthy heaping of cannabis, I was hooked for life. Sitting there on a log at dusk, surrounded by the tall ponderosa pines at the Nevada County Fairground, Friday, June 17th, 1976, everything changed. I would learn to sing and play bluegrass (first guitar, then bass and finally fiddle), I would form a bluegrass band that continues to perform thirty years later, I would introduce my son Phillip to the music, which led to his becoming a remarkable singer/songwriter/picker, I would become active in the California Bluegrass Association, eventually becoming the chairman of its board of directors, (a development that bespeaks the co-dependent enabler role taken on at the early age of six years old), and most importantly in the grand scheme of things, I would make countless dear and lifelong friends.

It’s worth noting that up until my introduction to bluegrass and its practitioners and fans pretty much one hundred percent of my friends shared my political, social, religious, and philosophical tenants. That is to say, they were all liberal, democrat, progressive, agnostic existentialists. (Well, the last might be a stretch, but at the time I certainly wanted to believe they were.) Once bluegrass music happened, all that changed, almost overnight. The folks I met and with whom I played music, began hanging out and eventually intermingled my life were all over the socio-political-spiritual map. How can that happen? How can you suddenly become friends with a person whose belief system is contrary to yours? Well, you can’t. What happens is this—bluegrass people don’t talk politics or religion. Over time you begin to discover that some of your new friends, while not belonging to the same political party, or the same religion, are in most other ways, and if you’re lucky, important ways, just like you. This is the story of one such friend, one of my closest.

It was on a Saturday morning at Hollister’s Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival that I had the good fortune of wandering by the camper of Tim and Sue Edes just as they were sitting down to breakfast….and the even greater fortune of being told Tim had cooked too much. (It’s always an accident when I run into Tim’s camp just as he’s about to eat.) Over eggs easy-over, fried potatoes and a steaming, glistening mound of bacon, we three chatted for maybe ten minutes before the rabbit incident came up. Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes even less time, but sooner or later, we re-tell the rabbit story; it helps a little if someone who’s never heard the rabbit story before is there, but that’s not a requirement.

The story begins on a cold and stormy night, the wind is howling and I’m walking through sheets of rain in a grassy parking area at the Yolo County Fairgrounds looking for Tim’s rig. It’s the CBA’s annual Veterans Day Festival, fourth and final, (it only took us four years to figure out that late November was not a great time for an event that included camping). There are a dozen or so campers in the field and I’m just about to give up looking when I spot Tim’s pick-up and cab-over camper. I rap on the door, it opens and I come in out of the cold and rain. I’m cold but thankfully dry. Tim pours me a glass of wine.

I didn’t know Sue very well at all at the time, but she and I hit it off right from the start. We three sat and chatted for close to an hour in the warmth of the camper, gusts of wind occasionally shaking it on its wheels, fierce ran pounding the roof like so many machine gun rounds. Finally I pulled on my heavy down coat, thanked the Edes for their hospitality, opened the door and then quickly slammed it shut.

“My God,” I said, “there’s a rabbit out there.”

Tim thought it was a joke. “Oh, so you’re afraid of rabbits in the dark now…..put that in your candidate’s statement next year for the CBA board election. Rick Cornish —INTEGRITY…. LEADERSHIP….And did we mention a furry animal phobia?”

“No, really man, there’s a rabbit out there on the ground and it’s alive but hurt. It’s moving. And I can see red. I’m sure it’s blood.”

“Let me see,” Sue said squeezing by me and opening the camper door. She slammed it shut too.

“He’s right, honey. There’s a little rabbit out there and it’s hurt and bleeding. You’ve got to do something.”

Tim looked at me impatiently, and then at Sue.

“So what do you want me to do, Sue, give it mouth to mouth?”

“Get out there Tim,” I laughed, “and save that little critter’s life, just wash up before coming back in. Could have rabies.” Sue glanced at me and wasn’t smiling. So much for our blossoming new friendship.

“Tim, seriously, you’ve got to go out there and put that poor little animal out of its misery. Just shoot it.”

Tim looked at his wife pleadingly. “Honey, I didn’t bring a gun, what am I gonna kill it with.” There were a few moments of silence. The wind howled outside….the lights in the camper flickered, but just for an instant.

“Well,” I said after a long moment, “I noticed a shovel leaning against the camper. Couldn’t you just, ah, you know, whack it?”

“Couldn’t YOU just whack it?” Tim snapped back. An even longer silence followed. Maybe two friendships in jeopardy.

“I don’t…..ah…..or I haven’t…..ah…..killed…..ah…..things. I mean, living things. Well, insects, of course, and a bird with a bee-bee gun once, but that was on accident. It was a horrible experience. But never anything with fur… know… a mammal.” They just stared at me, I think in disbelief. Tim was a life long hunter, an honest-to-God outdoorsman, and Sue was married to one.

The wind whaled outside and the camper shook. For a moment I thought I could hear the rabbit moan. (Do rabbits moan?)

Sue finally broke the silence. “For God’s sake, honey, just go out and whack the bunny.”

“Yes, Tim, whack the rabbit,” I chimed in.

“I don’t WANT to whack the rabbit. I’m a hunter. I shoot things. I don’t beat them to death with a damned shovel……Are you even sure there’s a rabbit out there?” Now Tim looked out the door.

“Daaaaaamn,” he droned, closing the door and looking for his boots. “Daaaaaamn!”

Pulling his yellow slicker on, Tim made one more protest. “I really don’t get why it has to be me,” he said, even though he was now clearly resigned to handling the ‘situation’.

Tim sighed, stepped out of the camper and closed the door behind him. I was relieved he’d closed the door, and I was pretty sure Sue was too. Neither one of us wanted to watch. Once Tim was gone, Sue looked at me. “Well,” she said, “you know, people fall into one of two groups—hunters or gatherers. You and I are gatherers, and Tim, he’s a hunter.”

“I’m definitely a gatherer,” I nodded.

Moments passed in silence. In less than a minute Tim returned holding an empty white plastic bag. “SaveMart” was written on it in brilliant red.

“Here’s your bunny,” Tim sneered.

Okay, there are variations on the story depending on who tells it. But the facts are the facts. And I’m guessing that when I see the Edes at the next festival or camp out, we’ll re-visit that night at Woodland.

Posted:  10/24/2009

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